Sunday, June 29, 2014

Commons Sense

We were off on one of our walks, a familiar circuit for the wife and me actually, in as much as we've walked it time and time again over the past seventeen years or so. We came upon this sign near the entrance to the park and something about the sign just got me thinking.  It was one of those images, maybe not so obviously, but nevertheless posing the question 'what is wrong with this picture?' 

There was the fact that the lettering was hand drawn for one. My wife observed that it put off some of the same basic vibe as when Calvin and Hobbes hang out a 'No Girlz Aloud!' sign on one of their very exclusive clubhouse tree forts. That was surely some of the problem, but not the whole of it. (I'm actually kind of fond of Calvin.) But crudely written there was the same message much more professionally rendered in a much more official and polished seeming piece of metal street signage just a bit further down the path, the message being that the park was for the use of Holliston Residents Only.

I don't much like that picture either.

I suppose I can understand the sentiment behind the signage. Lake Winthrop and the parks that give access to it are certainly resources to be cherished and preserved and protected. They are worth that public effort and expense. Maybe that's where the problem comes in. Maybe because there is some considerable amount of public effort involved in preserving and protecting these resources we come to think of them as public property —the town's property. And property is a term we tend to understand in terms of exclusion. 

I think that is a mistake when it comes to regarding our public realm, our natural resources, our common wealth. Sometimes what you value in this life is a function, not of what you sell or choose to own and secure for yourself, but rather a matter of what you offer —what you share —like a blessing. I believe this is true for individuals and their gifts. I believe it is true for communities as well.

A while back I responded to the survey about Holliston's open spaces and I think I started to say the same thing there. I recalled that I first fell in love with Holliston standing at the edge of Lake Winthrop at Stoddard Park on a winter morning. Mist rising from the water. My wife and I had just started thinking we wanted to live with our two small children somewhere removed from city life, but not from a sense of community, a place with a sense of openness, woods to walk in, waters to swim. I'd come to Stoddard as an architect looking to respond to the town's request for proposals. They looked to make improvements to the park's facilities and gave us prospective respondents a tour of the site. I came home that night telling my wife I thought I'd really found something. I never got the design job, we did find a home for our family though.

I know what a resource the woods and waters of Holliston have been to me personally over the years. I know I'm not alone in that appreciation. It's because of those experiences, walking the woods alone with my thoughts or swimming the lake side by side with my loved ones, watching the lone heron take flight —it's because I so value those moments that I find myself so ill at ease with any signal to anyone that they should not share in them as well. 

I know there are some practical arguments to be had on a subject like this. And I've not even begun to address them here. I don't mean to insult the signs or those who placed them. I just mean to suggest another mindset when it comes to how we regard our natural resources here in town. They are indeed a wealth worth our efforts to preserve and protect, but they are our common wealth, gifts and blessings and like any such we better honor them in the sharing. We can and should protect and conserve our woods and waters here in Holliston. We simply shouldn't pretend we merely own them.